Valley Farm Riding and Driving Centre, River Deben, Wickham Market, Woodbridge, Suffolk, IP13 0ND, 01728 746916
The River Nar adjoins the farm. Tents and camping, golf, table tennis, fishing on the river bank,
Stabling for horses, with an indoor barn available. B&B in the main farmhouse.
John Kelly is the owner and admin of www.SongofthePaddle.co.uk – the UK’s premier canoe forum and website.
John talks here about growing up with boats, paddling on Loch Lomond, winter camping and why England’s access laws need to change.
Where did you get your passion for the outdoors?
I grew up in Glasgow. My parents had a boat on the Clyde. We sailed a lot at weekends. When I was three years old the boat sank and we got a caravan instead. It was at Rowardenan on the banks of Loch Lomond. We were there most weeks. In the summer holidays my brother and I used to run wild.
We also had a speed boat and my big brother and my dad went water skiing.
I must have been seven or eight. I was in the caravan. The water was calm and clear and this canoe came round the corner. He had camping stuff and a dog up front.
I can remember watching as he slowly paddled up the loch and thinking, ‘I want to do that.’
But I didn’t get round to it for years.
So what changed?
I started a bit of wild life photography as an excuse to get outdoors. That led me to thinking about bushcraft; and then canoes because you can carry a lot of stuff with you.
Have you got a favourite overnight spot?
During the summer the loch is heaving with people in power boats. But there are two or three islands you can have all to yourself, where you can get a campfire going and just relax.
Sometimes I’ll finish work on a Friday, load the canoe up, go to Loch Lomond and paddle out to an island for a relaxing night.
It’s very convenient. Only half an hour away from home.
What is the essential gear you take?
Tarpaulin to keep the rain and sun off. A hammock and under-blanket. A mat. Sleeping bag. Knife. Saw.
A pot. It’s a thing you would sell your soul for if you forget it. Cooking or boiling water is almost impossible without it.
I can go without a stove. I take a stove on every trip and it rarely gets lit. I cook over the fire almost all the time.
Even when it’s wet?
Yeah, because I’ve got the tarp up.
Muck boots because they are warm and comfy. Lightweight, polycotton trousers that won’t hold the water. Merino tops and a Merino t-shirt. I layer up to keep warm. And a windproof waterproof.
Yeah. Occasionally I have the full waterproof trousers and jacket. I don’t mind paddling in the rain as long as I’ve got the right clothes.
Do you canoe and camp in the winter?
More than I do in the summer. I get two weeks off over Christmas and New Year. I enjoy doing stuff when it’s snowing and frozen. I’ve been out in -10 to -11 and have been cosy and warm.
I usually get one or two trips in between Christmas and the New Year. The water is quieter at that time of year.
Do you wear a wetsuit?
No. My plan is very much not to fall in. I do have a change of clothes with me though.
Favourite camp meal?
I quite like Jerky, but I have an almost set menu for two-day trips.
Lunch on the first day will be soft baked bars. Dinner is always a proper haggis, a vegetarian haggis and instant mash that we mix together in a Crusader Mug. That’s pretty filling. Then we have a Heather Cream Liqueur.
In the morning we have square sausage or black pudding in a tortilla wrap. After that we will make pancakes with maple syrup.
So you take flour with you?
Yes. And I’ve got hens in the back garden so I take eggs along too.
For lunch on the second day we might end up with soft baked bars again.
Dinner time it can be handmade pizza. And the next morning we will have a black pudding or sausage again.
Top tips for beating the summer midges?
Find midge free areas. Other than that, pick sites with a bit of a breeze. We’ve got head nets and things like that. It helps keep them off your face and I have an insect net that hangs with the hammock.
Have you canoed in England and Wales?
I’ve paddled in Ullswater. I would like to paddle the Norfolk Broads. It looks fantastic.
But the laws preventing access are absolutely insane. If I lived in England and Wales I would paddle anywhere I bloody wanted, I would be almost desperate for someone to try and sue me for it.
How different is it in Scotland?
You see a piece of water, and you know you can paddle on it. A loch, a lake, a ditch.
Any thoughts on the boom in sea fishing and kayaking?
There’s quite a big forum for that, and they seem to be big and successful. Again, it allows you to get to places others can’t easily access.
You like that?
Castle Semple Loch is 200 yards from my house. One side is always busy with people. A third of a kilometre across the other side is just trees. There’s no footpath and nobody can get there. It’s no distance at all on that other side, but you are in a different world.
How often do you get on the Loch?
I try to make Tuesday night a regular thing, with three or four friends.
Have you tried canoe sailing?
At the most basic level. I’ve got a downwind sail and I’ll use it if the wind is at my back.
I fought against it for a while as I felt it was cheating, but now I always carry a pop sail on the canoe.
Pick five paddling companions living or dead?
The first is Russell Kennedy He’s a good friend. There’s no machine on earth that can gather firewood and split it like Russell. He will light a fire in any conditions. Russell and me, we gel well that way.
Bill Bryson the author because he would write a good blog.
From a sentimental point of view – my dad. He died when I was 10. So as much as we got to hang around Loch Lomond, it would be good to let dad see how I’ve turned out, and then go do some more outdoor stuff with him.
And of course my two daughters. It’s always good to spend time with the family. That’s one of the great things I like about canoeing. The fact that it gives you time to spend with your family in a relaxing way. You will just always end up talking, joking and laughing.